Cuba, Cuba! The new destination for Americans after Obama lifted major travel restrictions that have been in place since the United States, under John F. Kennedy placed an embargo on the island of Cuba.
I took advantage of very cheap flight prices to spend this past Christmas and New Years basking in the glory of Cuba, and though I typically do a vlog of my whole trip before I give out any tips, since traveling to Cuba is such a hot button topic, I’m getting the tips out first.
I loved loved loved Cuba! However, I totally understand Cuban’s frustration with living under such a restrictive government, but I hope they are proud of how much they’ve sustained with a world power like the USA’s foot on their neck. The island is beautiful, lush, green and relatively clean. I was marveling at the paved roads and highways. People so often overlook how much infrastructure matters but Cuba has it down, in a way that many other islands and countries who supposedly have the giving hand of the US as an ally, do not. Beautiful roads with traffic lights that work! Let me tell y’all after going to Ghana…I appreciate the fuck out of a working traffic light and after visiting Togo, I love a paved highway with shoulders and service roads. Let me tell you….what I won’t take for granted. And Cuba has it.
This is a series of tips, and we’re going to start off with all the questions one might have about booking a flight from the United States and where to get your visa for Cuba.
Skyscanner and Google Flights are your best friends. Skyscanner lets you search for the cheapest date in the coming year. They have numerous ways you can find the best and cheapest way to get to Cuba. Whether you want to know the city with the cheapest flights, the cheapest month, weekend or airline, Skyscanner will let you know. Google Flights populates the cheapest date over three months so it’s easy to tweak dates for better flight deals, especially if you are have specifics you need to stick to (like dates or city). Just note, Southwest Airlines does not service their prices to any travel booking site, so you have to check them independently.
Book your ticket directly through the airline of your choice. My flight was $300 roundtrip on Delta from Dallas to Havana with a layover in Atlanta. Layovers for international flights should always be at least 90 minutes, it’s just best practice.
When you go to the airline website to book your ticket, you will be asked to complete an OFAC form. That is an Office of Foreign Assets Control, part of the United States Treasury department, form. Do not fret, this is just where you list your reason for travel under one of the 13 allowed reasons. You do not need to get a license from OFAC unless you are attempting to do business in Cuba. Most people will choose the Education Activity: People to People, because well…you’re going to Cuba to explore the culture and you do that through going on tours and interacting with local Cubans. I checked Journalist, because here I am writing a blog about my travels. Keep it simple. At no point in my travels was I asked again about what OFAC option I selected. Not in Havana or coming back through Customs. But as long as you’re not attempting to do business you will be fine by selecting people to people and going on a tour to meet the requirement.
The visa. American privilege is real and so many Americans get super anxious when traveling to a place where their blue passport does not get them immediate access. I already went through the process of getting visa for Ghana (a breeze), Togo (damn that expensive af Yellow Fever vaccine) and failed miserably at attempting to get a Nigerian visa (notoriously a nightmare). All that to say, the Cuban visa process is a cakewalk. Now if you really want to, you can be difficult and attempt to get your visa through the Cuban consulate in Washington DC. Or rather be smart and save time by booking it through your airline, where you pick the visa up at the gate for your flight. Yes, my brethen, it is really as simple as calling your airline and paying for the visa over the phone. At the time of my flight in December 2016, Delta was charging $50 for Cuban visas. If you’re airline does not offer the visa directly through them, than you can use Cuban Travel Services, they charge $75.
Medical insurance is also required. Unless you do it the hard way and go to the Cuban consulate, both the visa the airlines and Cuban Travel Services offer include the specific medical insurance coverage that is required for travel to Cuba.
If you are flying out of the United States you are required to get a visa before you board your flight. Even if you purchase it in advance through your airline, you are still picking it up at the gate of your flight, because it’s just a square piece of paper. Capitalism, y’all.
Packing. Because booking the flight is the easy part. Now you have to decide on how you want to travel and what’s the best way to ensure that your luggage makes it there and back in tact. Havana has a small airport and it’s advised you just pack a carry on because picking up your bag can take a minute or a couple hours. This is just advice, not a requirement. It depends on what you want to bring back home and if you mind that picking up your bags might take an hour or two. Now, I checked a bag cause I had every intention to buy all the rums and artwork so I needed a suitcase to carry it back in. I had absolutely no problem upon arrival and was able to get my bag quickly but that’s far from a guarantee. Now on my return flight home, my bags were as put on the wrong flight coming back to the States, though I did get them in once piece a few day laters, after Delta then shipped them to El Paso instead of Dallas after locating them in Havana. Funners. Also customs was down in all of the United States when I came back, adding to the confusion. That had nothing to do with Cuba though.
Actual clothing. What do you pack to wear in Cuba? It’s like any other Caribbean island. Pack a light jacket for the evenings, but it’s warm to hot in Cuba. If you plan to do any horseback riding or tours through the valleys + caves, light material long pants are highly recommended. Pack for how you plan to spend your time. The beach? The salsa club? Long walks? Just here for the pics? It’s all up to you.